PETROLEUM MAN by Stanley Crawford


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Satirical self-portrait of a tycoon better at managing his money than his family—in Crawford’s first novel since Some Instructions (1978).

Leon Tuggs is a starchy old blowhard whose fortune just keeps on growing. Its basis is his invention, the Thingie, a small paper product that has become as indispensable as Kleenex. (Leon got the formula “by informal means” from a suddenly impoverished chemist. Message: He’ll be as ruthless as the next guy.) Leon has a vast estate in Connecticut but spends most of his time in the air, jetting around the world to keep his empire humming. While aloft, he writes notes to his grandchildren, Fabian and Rowena, to accompany his birthday gifts to them of scale models of cars that reflect the trajectory of his career. Thus the tale is epistolary in format, though it’s more like an extended toast (Leon excels at those) to money (“our most effective god”), to mobility, or to greater consumption of those man-made things that will eventually replace unproductive nature. Though his daughter Deedums is on-board, son-in-law Chip is a wretched lower-case liberal democrat (as opposed to the Conservative Republican Leon). More worrying is Leon’s wife, Deirdre. Leon doesn’t like women (“Men invent the world while women only populate it”), but he does need his wife, even though she’s seeking out the simple life—in a tent! Her nonsense exposes Leon to media mockery, which intensifies when he’s found wearing drag. This moment of farce recalls the purposeful lunacy of Crawford’s earlier work, but here that lunacy is much less on display, the novel’s format a hindrance to it. There will be more disappointment for Leon as his grandchildren become teenagers and trash or trade his priceless model cars, but the patriarch, nothing daunted, will install actual cars in his expanded living room. His marriage, though, will pretty much collapse (divorce is not an option for a Tuggs).

Reads like a buttoned-down Tom Wolfe.

Pub Date: March 4th, 2005
ISBN: 1-58567-557-1
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2004


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